Helping writers deal with anxiety.
Pretty much everyone in the literary world when creating a piece of work has a moment of doubt (or many). For some it can be crippling. For others, its a moment that is easy to push past and get on with the job.
A writer friend of mine gets so worried about their work and what others might think about it, that even after coming up on ten years of writing, not a single manuscript has seen the light of day. Constantly re-writing or scrapping parts to start over. Emotions run high, depression and mood swings from moments of being sure that this is ‘the’ vocation – to calling it a hobby, and nothing about that is good or serious.
That would seriously drive me crazy!
I’m lucky enough that I had to deal with constructive criticism early in life. I was a dancer. Ballroom and Latin. I even went on to win two Australian titles in the 90’s. With that, hours of rehearsal under the speculative gaze of my peers and adjudicators, all judging me on my appearance, movement, technique… and at first it felt personal. It’s hard not to. You are being judged on how you look, your facial expressions, body shape, how you walk, raise your arm… it’s very intimate. So you have to learn when someone says “that’s ugly” they aren’t calling you ugly: it’s the combination of all the little parts that go into your presentation that aren’t meshing well.
It took some time to grow a thick skin and learn that sort of criticism can be gold if handled well.
Comparatively, writing rings a very similar note. It’s also intimate. We put our blood, sweat and tears into the whole thing. We live it. It is an extension of our own being. So negative comments – or fear of them – is debilitating.
We need to get that into the frame of mind that criticism, reviews, input from others is only going to help us improve the manuscript. And also let us know what parts we were torturing ourselves over, is in fact, relevant.
Critical writing partners and beta readers have helped me wheedle out parts of a manuscript that weren’t working, elements which are derivative, and other parts that are great. It also let me know about some things I wasn’t sure of – many times my consternation was completely unwarranted.
Yes, I got that ice cold weight in the pit of my stomach when handing over pages for my colleagues to read. But once you do it a few times it becomes easier. Especially when you see how your writing evolves into a much more fantastic creature.
It’s easier to say, push through it. Everybody is different and handles criticism with varying degrees of emotional attachment. But if you can start viewing your completed manuscript as something you can improve (through market research, using critique partners and beta readers) and develop that critical eye, you are setting yourself up to stay the distance as a writer.
No one wants to be crippled by fear. You’re not writing all those pages to forever remain in a box under your bed.
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